Move over stevia? Joywell Foods raises $6.9m, aims to commercialize sweet proteins in 18-24 months

July 23, 2020 Off By administrator

While stevia and monk fruit sweeteners have improved significantly in recent years as firms have homed in on the more sugar-like (but also more scarce) steviol glycosides such as Reb M, “they still don’t taste exactly like sugar​” and formulators are always looking for other natural options, claims Dr Jason Ryder, CTO at California-based startup Joywell Foods (formerly ‘Miraculex’).

Proteins such as miraculin (from the ‘miracle berry’ or Synsepalum dulcificum​), brazzein (from the fruit of Pentadiplandra brazzeana Baillon​) and curculin (from the fruit of Curculigo latifolia​) can deliver a more sugar-like sweetness profile, but have not been commercialized as it’s not economically viable to produce meaningful quantities by extracting them from fruit, he told FoodNavigator-USA.

However, Joywell​​ – one of a new breed of startups using synthetic biology to  ‘program’ microbes to express proteins and other components found in plants by using DNA sequences from the plants in question – is on a mission to bring these exotic proteins to the mainstream of food formulation.

$6.9m funding round

The Davis, Calif-based startup – which has just raised $6.9m in a Series A round led by Kraft Heinz-backed venture fund Evolv Ventures and supported by Khosla Ventures, SOSV, Alumni Ventures Group and others – “takes the DNA from the plant and drops it into a microbe ​[yeast] to express the protein via a fermentation process,” ​explained Dr Ryder.

And these proteins could feature in yogurts, beverages, and a wide range of other products, according to Ryder, who has just co-authored a peer-reviewed toxicology study​​ on miraculin along with an R&D executive from Coca-Cola, which will help inform GRAS dossiers the company is preparing both for plant-derived and fermentation-derived versions.

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